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Vital Stories

Quality Data Spurs Action on Life-Saving Policies

Public health data provides critical insight into the needs and priorities of a population’s health, and equips governments with the tools and systems to prioritize health challenges, deploy resources, and measure success. But simply having data is not enough: How governments use this information is essential to determining policy decisions for improving a population’s health.

Participants and mentors from Peru and Colombia attend the first Spanish-language Data to Policy workshop in Bogota, Colombia.

As part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Data for Health initiative, Vital Strategies and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control hosted a two-week “Data to Policy Training” workshop, providing technical assistance to government staff to enhance the skills of government staff to use data and analytic methods to develop new policy recommendations. This was the first Data to Policy workshop offered in Spanish, held in Bogota, Colombia.

Too often, the policymaking process unfolds without the benefit of quality data and evidence. Without this information, policymakers are left to make ‘best guess’ decisions when it comes to deciding public health priorities. The two-week workshop tackled the gaps in data use, providing government analysts with health and economic impact tools needed to turn data into policy recommendations in the form of policy briefs, which provide the health and economic impact of intervention strategies and tell compelling stories for why change is needed.

Cynthia Driver, Senior Technical Advisor from Vital Strategies, presents to workshop participants.

Prior to the workshop, participants were asked to determine the root causes of their policy topic and prepare a problem statement. During the workshop, participants worked in small teams made up of analysts, program leads and a policy lead. Together, they conducted health impact and cost effectiveness analyses of their policy topic, and honed skills needed to develop policy recommendations and briefs – from formulating policy questions, to identifying policy options to visualizing data, and more. Each group developed a policy brief on the specific policy topics defined by Ministry and National Health Institute priorities. The workshop culminated in a presentation of their policy briefs to the Ministry of Health stakeholders and other decision-makers in their institutions for consideration for implementation.

One successful outcome from the workshop included a proposed pilot cancer screening program for women in Peru. A data policy brief titled, “More Screening, Less Cancer,” was presented to the cancer prevention program stakeholders, who plan to implement the recommended intervention of breast and cervical cancer screening for women. Community organizations will be engaged in identifying locations where many women can be screened. Possible locations include churches, a popular gathering place for the community.

Other topics included:

  • Reducing childhood exposure to lead in household paint
  • The health costs of bazuco (“crack”)
  • Increasing psychosocial care for victims of the armed conflict
  • Increasing the diagnosis of HIV among MSM
  • Regulating advertising of processed foods to reduce childhood obesity
  • Reducing morbidity and mortality due to motorcycle crashes
  • Increasing cervical and breast cancer detection through faith-based screening
  • Increasing evaluation and treatment of TB contacts
  • Continuing education of providers to reduce maternal mortality
  • Increasing the proportion of births by vaginal delivery

A participant from Peru practiced presenting his policy brief with colleagues in the training.

Vital Strategies’ Data to Policy workshop has been implemented in 10 countries as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative, including the Philippines, Ghana, Myanmar, Shanghai, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Zambia, and the Solomon Islands. Policy brief topics from past workshops ranged from expanded immunization schedules, to increased taxes on sugar sweetened beverages, and smoke-free law enforcement.

Turning data into governmental action is a key component in policymaking and decision-making. The Data for Health Initiative is empowering governments to use data strategically to establish priorities, target resources, and create programs and policies that improve the health of their citizens.